Long-delayed Tavern underway at 4th Street Live - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Long-delayed Tavern underway at 4th Street Live

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Nearly a year-and-a-half ago, Louisville Metro government cut an $850,000 check to an affiliate of the Cordish Co., the Baltimore developer that owns and operates 4th Street Live. The purpose: To help Cordish renovate the vacant second floor of the Kaufman-Straus building for a new bar called Tavern on 4th.

Now, after a series of delays, work appears to be underway on the Tavern, which is billed as a "major expansion" of 4th Street Live.

"We are pleased to report that it is well under construction," 4th Street Live General Manager Jim Layson said in an email to WDRB.com. "…It will be a spectacular new addition to downtown and a major new anchor attraction for Fourth Street Live."

Layson says the Tavern will open in the first three months of 2014. Cordish officials originally said it would open in 2012. Then, in January of this year, they said it would open over the summer.

This month, Cordish took out two building permits for the site, which is above the Sports & Social Club, and construction work is visible from the second floor of the development. Cordish has previously said the Tavern will occupy about 30,000 square feet and will feature an "upscale bar that will appeal to the 30-and-up, professional crowd," a live music room, a patio overlooking the street and "gourmet" pub food.

The Tavern will be owned and operated by John L. Sullivan of New York, who also owns Sully's Saloon and Maker's Mark Lounge, according to Cordish's sublease with the Tavern, which is on file with Metro government, and to Kentucky liquor license records.

Plans for the Tavern come as 4th Street Live is trying to fill four vacant spaces, three of which are on the first floor. The vacancies were formerly occupied by these businesses: 

  • Ri Ra Irish Pub, which closed last month without explanation

  • The (British-themed) Pub, which closed in November 2012 and is now in a court battle with Cordish over a provision of The Pub's lease

  • Quattro, a locally owned restaurant that closed last spring shortly after being rebranded from Mozzaria. Those restaurants followed Red Star Tavern, which was evicted in 2011 for nonpayment of rent.

  • Improv Comedy Club, which folded last December.

Layson said the Tavern will be taking at least some, and possibly all, the former Improv space. Meanwhile, three restaurants are in the works for the other vacant spaces, he said. He declined to name them, pending signed deals.

"These new venues are truly best-in-class and will be incredible new additions to the downtown dining scene," Layson said.

In all, nine bars and restaurants have closed at 4th Street Live in the last two years, according to media reports. They are: Ri Ra Irish Pub; Angels Rock Bar; Mosaic ; Improv Comedy Club; Red Star Tavern; Mozzaria; Quattro; Hotel; and The Pub.

Layson noted that 4th Street Live replaced the former Borders bookstore space with the brew pub Gordon Biersch and landed a corporate office tenant, Beam Inc., for the second floor of the former Borders space. He added that venues like Howl at the Moon, Sully's and Maker's Mark Lounge have been long-term fixtures of the development, and that Cordish recently installed a huge LED TV screen above 4th Street at a cost of about $300,000.

As for the timeline of the Tavern, Cordish has no deadline to spend the $850,000 in taxpayer money, said David Morris, an attorney with the Louisville Metro Department of Economic Growth & Innovation.

The $850,000 represents the remainder of a $1.8 million forgivable loan Cordish received from Metro government under former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson. Cordish used the first $950,000 in 2009 to renovate the vacant former Lucky Strike bowling alley for the Sports & Social Club. Sports & Social Club is a Cordish subsidiary.

At the time, there was an uproar at the Metro Council over Cordish's inability to verify that all $950,000 was used for improvements to the space. A group of city officials went to Cordish's headquarters in Baltimore to review the spending records, and the former city auditor said the records "appeared to substantiate" that the money was properly spent, though he could not elaborate under a confidentiality agreement with Cordish, according to a Courier-Journal story from the time.

As for the Tavern, Cordish's building permits listed $208,000 in estimated costs for the work currently underway. But Layson said the total budget for the project is about $1.5 million, most of which is "hard construction items such as storefront, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, millwork, and carpentry." He said the building permits will be amended "as final pricing becomes available as is typical for a project of this nature."

Once the Tavern opens, Cordish will give the bar, doing business as Tavern on 4th LLC, a "lease incentive payment" of $1.3 million to help with furnishing and adding fixtures to the interior, according to the sublease.

The sublease runs for 10 years, beginning with the Tavern's opening date. Part of the Tavern's rent will be calculated a portion of its sales, though Cordish redacted the cost of rent and other financial details from Metro government's copy of the sublease. 

Cordish will not have to repay the $1.8 million if both Sports & Social Club and the Tavern remain open for five years, according to the loan terms.

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